The Playgoer

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Monday, September 19, 2005

I find myself nodding vigorously at these wise words from Jill Dolan, addressing a common confusion over the nature of "criticism" when it comes to theatre (emphasis added):

My initial posting on Oedipus at Palm Springs also raised questions from some readers about how blog writing enters public conversations differently than more conventional publication or information-sharing....
Some readers, for instance, have remarked that I didn't "like" Oedipus at Palm Springs very much (and many of them say they liked it a great deal). On the contrary, I enjoyed the performance I saw quite a lot. I meant my critical engagements to offer ways of thinking about the production that might put it in a different light, not to suggest that it wasn't "good." I'm struck by how limited is our critical vocabulary for talking about performance, if we remain caught in that good/bad binary. I can enjoy a performance, feel supportive of its creators, and still want to talk about the range of things it made me think and feel, some of which might be polemical.
Yet I'm struck by how much I, too, worry that what I write will be read as condemnation or disparagement of an artistic project I admire very much. How can I (how can we) work to shift the limitations of such critical discourse?

Yes, intelligent educated people can explore endlessly the complexities, contradictions, and even weaknesses of a great novel, but when it comes to a play, all that matters is the show biz. Do I buy a ticket or not? Are our discussions of Picasso or Jackson Pollock ruled by such criteria? (Am I assuming too much in saying we talk about them at all?) I know that when I take students to the theatre, the discussion about the performance always descends into "thumbs up/thumbs down" in a way they would never think about getting away with in an English class.

Can theatre ever be detached (liberated?) from commerce? from the status of commodity?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No! And I don't think it should be. Part of what makes theatre (and any commercial art form) so vital is that it has to succeed commercially as well as artistically. How far out can the playwright or director go without losing too large of a chunk of his/her audience? Can you attain mass appeal without pandering? And so on.

The delicate balance between commerce and art, in an ideal world, should create better work. In the '50s, I think, the balance worked best -- serious (yet accessible) plays and hummable (yet sophisticated) musicals acheived commercial success as well as artistic glory. What went wrong over the last 50 years? I dunno, Playgoer, you tell me. But I think it stems from something much larger than the theater biz merely becoming more biz and less theater.

Also, I think a lot of the blame lies with Andrew Lloyd Webber. But that's just me.

Webber hatah